An oath for editors?

I really liked this “Copyeditor’s Typographic Oath,” except the part about it being a typographic oath. This oath was originally presented in an article titled “The Need for Guidelines” posted by Erin Brenner on Copyediting.com. In this same article she presents “Commandments for Copyeditors” that the Editorial Eye published a bit ago. All of these lists are rules to live by as editors.

I really love the first rule or commandment: Do no harm. I think this speaks to making a change only when you can back it up by a guideline or standard. I think this is tempered with the third one: Respect the reader. I think this should actually come before the second one: Respect the writer. I think if we adhere to the first rule (do no harm), then we are automatically respecting the writer’s work. Many of the others seem more project-management oriented, where these first three speak to the fundamental values of the editing process.

This oath was presented again in a new series of articles about avoiding editing paralysis, Part 1 being about Having the Right Attitude. Brenner talks about how the first rule breeds perfectionism in new editors, keeping them in fear of making any mistakes, suggesting that editors cannot make mistakes. I’ve never bought in to that, and I always talk with my writers about how I definitely can make mistakes. We’ll often discuss my editing comments and the guidelines or standard that inspired them, and together we decide what is right for the reader.

Happy editing everyone!

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